Why Autumn Planting is Best
Autumn Planting is best but why have we got out of the habit?
When I left college and started my first job, it was common practice to plant your garden in the autumn. Now we seem to wait for the first daffodil to open before we even think of venturing outside! Perhaps we get fired up by the lengthening days in spring? Perhaps it is just the sight of that first bulb pushing through the earth that reminds us that there is a garden out there!
Anyway, spring is not necessarily the best time to be planting the majority of garden plants.
Hardy plants are best planted right now!
Spring planting is for those perennial plants that are less hardy and need a full summer to get well enough established to survive their first winter. Think Mediterranean type plants.
Okay, so what are ‘hardy plants’ I hear you say?
Well they are most of the plants we grow and can withstand frost and survive happily year after year. These are all perennials and can be woody, herbaceous, climbing, conifer-like, deciduous, alpine and even fruit crops!
Just why is autumn planting best?
The soil is still warm even though air temperatures have begun to drop.
Warm soil encourages new roots to form rapidly. By contrast in spring the soil is very much colder and so roots are often playing ‘catch-up’ with the tops of plants romping away. This exhausts all the plants’ reserves before the root system is fully functioning.
Even trees and shrubs that lose their leaves in autumn – called deciduous – will grow new roots before spring if planted now. Although the tops become dormant the roots continue to grow!
Soils in autumn have plenty of moisture. This, with the inevitable winter rains, reduces the need for regular watering. Newly planted trees and shrubs in spring will need regular watering right through the first growing year.
What’s the effect on our gardens?
As a result of this shift in buying habits many gardens are dominated by spring bloomers. Gardens then often lacking interest during the rest of the year.
This is hardly surprising since we invariably are drawn to and buy those things in flower. And retail nurseries and garden centres are full of things in flower in spring.
A few visits in autumn and even winter will redress that balance and result in much more interesting gardens all year round!
Transplanting and Reorganizing
Autumn is also a great time to make changes to your garden layout.
If this entails moving plants you’ve already got to somewhere else, autumn is a great time to do it!
Move evergreens with as little disturbance to the roots as possible.
Don’t be afraid to prune the tops back as it will help plants settle in. Pruning will help the roots catch up with the tops since you will inevitably leave some roots behind!
Tips for Autumn Planting
Whether you plant at this time of the year, or indeed any time of the year, thorough soil preparation, careful planting and good after-care will get your plants off to the very best start!
Don’t just dig a shallow hole big enough to take the new plant. Dig the surrounding soil too and be sure to break up- but not bring to the surface- any compacted sub-soil.
Make the planting hole at least twice the size of your new plant’s root ball.
Make certain that the root ball is soaked before you even think of planting!
In some autumns there is very little rain and it will pay to fill any planting hole to the surface with water. Then go away and have a cup of tea before returning to plant. The water should have soaked into the surrounding soil.
Mixing in some well-rotted organic matter is important for poorer soils. Use organic matter such as garden compost, recycled composted green waste or potting compost.
I always add a complete slow release fertiliser to the planting hole and particularly like Vitax Q4 fertiliser for this.
To help get woody plants established quickly you could consider adding Root Grow. It contains root friendly fungi to inoculate the root system and this natural process is kick started by Root Grow. Both establishment and subsequent growth have been proven to improve using this product. I would especially recommend it for planting roses and fruit trees but all woody plants benefit.
After firming in to ensure that there are no air voids around the root ball, water your new plants in well. Perhaps also apply a 5-10 cm layer of more compost or bark around each plant to trap in the moisture and suppress any new competing weed growth. For trees in particular it pays to keep the mulching material away from the trunk as sometimes voles burrow under the mulch and chew the bark off the trunk. A void of 10-15 cms seems to be enough to prevent this.
Plant Choice and Advice
In autumn the choice of plants is often much greater than at other times of the year.
You may also notice in autumn staff have a bit more time to give you good advice and help you choose wisely! In spring staff are often so busy answering everyone else’s queries, watering, restocking and a hundred other tasks that they can only spend limited time with you.
So what are you waiting for, don’t waste the opportunity, get planting now! Your plants will be established and growing when everyone else’s are still playing ‘catch-up’.
Have you transplanted anything in your garden in autumn and got good results?
Are you a spring or autumn plant buyer?
Do you have any planting tips to share with other readers?
Do you now agree that autumn planting is best?
You might find my blog on trees for autumn colour interesting. Read it here.
It will soon be time to take hardwood cuttings. Read my blog on this easy method of propagation here.